Delivering Differentiated Customer Value

By Neil Baron August 15, 2016

Football teams succeed when they
call the right play and all 11 players execute their role to the best of their ability. Even if a team has the most talented group of individuals, if everyone does what they think is best, rather than following the play, the result will be chaos.

Orchestras succeed when musicians play off the same sheet of music. If an orchestra has world-class musicians but everyone plays what they want, the result will be unlistenable noise.

In the competitive worlds of sports and music, organizational alignment is taken for granted, but it can be rare in business. Too many companies with talented employees fail to execute on their collective ability. Too often employees are busy managing their daily activities, and organizational alignment gets put on the back burner. This can result in suboptimal performance, leading to unhappy customers, missed market opportunities, frustrated employees and disappointed stakeholders. It also inhibits a company’s ability to maintain a competitive edge.
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But when leading companies combine organizational alignment with an ability to evolve with the market, they greatly improve their odds of remaining competitive. Eagle Investment Systems recognized its need to change with the market. As a 20-year-old company and the market leader, Eagle is not resting on its success. Instead, it is looking to capitalize on the many opportunities to continue increasing the value it delivers to customers, growing its primary markets and penetrating new ones.

Eagle clients value the deep relationships they’ve developed and consider Eagle to be a critical component of their business success. When Diane McLoughlin, a 15-year veteran at Eagle, was named chief client officer in 2015, the company’s client retention rate was an impressive 95 percent. And while Diane and senior management were proud of that statistic, they also recognized that the needs of Eagle’s clients and the marketplace were evolving. Spending on financial-services technology was shifting from IT departments to business units. There was also a shift from pure technology to cloud solutions, managed services and outsourcing. To appeal to the business units and C-suite, Eagle recognized the need to change its go-to-market approach from focusing on product features to communicating the impact its products could have on a client’s business.

In Diane’s own words: “Today clients are looking for Eagle to provide guidance and insight on how to solve business challenges. Rather than present a set of features, we must consult on how organizations can meet their business objectives, such as managing asset growth, launching new investment products, understanding exposure to market events and managing data to support global trading activities.”

Key Realization

While Eagle’s management team recognized the need for change and the importance of introducing best practices, they also acknowledged the need for external expertise to help make the transition. The head of product management recommended that Eagle enlist a partner to help evaluate company processes and challenge its view of value delivery. As a result, Baron Strategic Partners began working with Eagle’s marketing and product management teams to evaluate their processes and explore opportunities to better equip the sales team.

Leveraging a Proven Approach to Deliver Client Outcomes

Eagle followed a five-step process to shift its focus. Eagle began by developing a deep understanding of the pressing market problems, exploring opportunities to deliver differentiated value with key internal stakeholders and clients, and then articulating how its offerings could help customers solve these problems.

1. Value Exploration (Internal Discovery)

A combination of internal interviews, document review, sales-call participation and working sessions helped Eagle see that it had several different opportunities to deliver meaningful customer outcomes and make a difference in the business of its customers–and ultimately, in the lives of those supporting the investment process.

Since many at Eagle are football fans, the company chose to refer to these opportunities as “plays.” Eagle then went about trying to determine the best, most valuable plays that would align with the company’s goals. Of course, value is determined by the customer, not the vendor, so the next step was to listen carefully to what the market needed.

2. Value Validation (Market Validation)

Eagle set out to collect market insights that would help prioritize a list of more than 20 potential plays. The focus during the value validation phase was to answer three critical questions:

  • What are the problems that, if left unsolved, could have significant impact on companies and key stakeholders?
  • What are the opportunities for Eagle to improve the lives of key customer stakeholders?
  • Which plays deliver the most value to Eagle’s target customers?

In order to understand the market, you must know how to listen and engage in an effective conversation to uncover the proper opportunities. Unfortunately, these barriers often get in the way:

  • Sales and relationship managers sometimes feel threatened when others talk to their accounts. They may introduce roadblocks to protect customers or preserve opportunities, or inadvertently prevent access to the proper customer stakeholders.
  • Sales and relationship managers may question the value of product teams talking to “their” customers, fearing that they will be left to clean up the mess of an awkward interview.
  • Customers view any person in the room as “the vendor” and naturally want to draw the conversation into product-oriented discussions.
  • Vendors may let their natural biases color the conversation; it’s easy to fall victim to confirmation bias as we naturally seek to confirm what we already believe to be true.

In Eagle’s case, it overcame these barriers by using an outside firm to lead these conversations. This allowed clients to open up and also ensured that the conversation remained objective and focused on the business challenges faced by each customer. Several educational meetings were held to gain buy-in and support from management and to build confidence with the relationship management team. Customers were carefully selected for the first set of interviews to ensure that a range of client types would provide input. Also, to gradually build trust, relationship managers were allowed to listen in on the conversations. In the end, the team was enthusiastic about the calls, which helped them uncover new insights about their customers.

3. Play Selection

The third step was to develop a list of criteria to evaluate and ultimately select the first plays. While the product team led this effort, it was important that the entire organization felt ownership of the process so they would be inclined to support it. To that end, every business should develop a play selection chart.

The chart below was tailored for Eagle to prioritize opportunities and select plays. While the headings at the top of each column may be similar for most businesses, the boxes underneath will probably change depending on a company’s priorities. For example, Eagle valued client references, so that went into the Ability to Succeed column and was weighed when selecting a play. But another company might value the creation of free trial accounts because upselling is a part of its plan.

Creating these customized charts helps companies identify important criteria and then build internal consensus with key stakeholders. It’s important to consider the entire chart for each play. If your company answers “yes” to more boxes across the chart than it answers “no,” that’s a good indication your play will be successful.

4. Value Proposition Refinement

Once the winning play was selected, the team worked to refine the value proposition. They reviewed the information gathered during internal discovery and market validation to make refinements against the value Eagle thought it brought to the market. The process was useful for grounding the group in the market as they identified the target customer, articulated the value proposition, established the process to deliver value and then communicated that value to the market.

Target customers were defined as those organizations and the people within those organizations who would get the most value from the play. They were the people most likely to buy a solution to meet their need. The value proposition then clearly defined why they should buy a solution from Eagle. Once the value proposition and the target customer were agreed to, the team was then confident to move to the execution phase.

5. Execution

Marketing and product management began developing go-to-market messages and collateral, while the services and support organizations ensured they were prepared to onboard and support new customers. The execution plan was divided into three components:

1. Develop a playbook that would support the sales organization and provide materials for how to successfully sell the play. Eagle started by polling the sales organization to hear the questions and concerns they had about selling the first play. The product team then spent several weeks answering the questions posed by the sales team and ensuring that they had proof points, examples of prior success and materials to address potential challenges. An iterative process, based on sales input and sales opportunities, helped improve the document. The sales team now uses the FAQ to accelerate deals.

Eagle continues to further develop the sales playbook to outline the specific steps, supporting processes and materials that will enable the sales team to sell the play more efficiently.

2. Refine the marketing plan for the play. One reason to focus on specific plays is to provide a structure for marketing that makes it easier for customers to buy. There are key reasons why customers decide to upgrade their accounting systems, so it’s important to make sure that the marketing plan supports those customer milestones with targeted marketing activities.

Focusing on a specific market with a highly targeted value proposition allows for a more efficient use of marketing resources. And choosing a play meant shifting the key marketing metrics from standard awareness-building to the ability of the sales team to drive specific interactions with clients
and prospects.

3. Align the organization to deliver the play. Success of a play involves more than just alignment of sales and marketing. It requires everyone at Eagle to be clear on their role in delivering the play. To ensure this occurred, we launched a value roadmap exercise. While
most readers are familiar with a product roadmap, which describes how a product will evolve over time, the value roadmap describes how each functional group in the organization will deliver value over time. Each functional group leaves with a clear understanding of the play and a prioritized list of specific actions that ensure Eagle delivers the play with
a high degree of quality.


Eagle’s leadership is now seeing a higher degree of focus, more effective resource allocation and better cooperation between the functional groups. Sales is positive, feels a higher degree of support from the company and is actively engaged with prospects. They are confident that by having higher- level conversations with clients, they will be successful in winning new business. Product management is seen as more strategic and the individuals involved in the play development process are gaining recognition. The signs point to a future where Eagle will be even more effective at delivering meaningful solutions to the market and winning even more business.

Greg Farrington, head of sales Americas, says, “As a result of this effort, the Eagle sales team has greater confidence pursuing opportunities knowing that the organization is aligned to support them. Now Eagle is even more effective at delivering meaningful customer value and bringing the full benefits of our solutions to market.”

Neil Baron

Neil Baron

Neil Baron is managing director at Baron Strategic Partners

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